Through Shaded Woods to The Primal Soul of Europe: A Conversation

In this exchange, Spirit of Cecilia’s Editor-in-Chief Brad Birzer and Arts Editor Tad Wert share first impressions of Lunatic Soul’s captivating new album, Through Shaded Woods.

Brad: The new Lunatic Soul album, Through Shaded Woods, does amazing things to my own lunatic soul, Tad.  I’m smitten. I find the music especially compelling–since it sounds very much like a cross between Riverside’s Wasteland (arguably, the band’s best album) and Jethro Tull’s Songs from the Woods.  Yet, however Tullish the album sounds (think Grumblewood, too), it’s a progression beyond Tull, acknowledging it without being slavish.

What do you think of it, so far?

Tad: Hi Brad! What a great album to discuss. I’ve listened to it a couple of times, and I really like it. My first impression was, “Hmm, Lunatic Soul does Songs From the Woods!”, so we are in agreement there. Do you think the title he gave this album is a deliberate reference? To my ears, there is a definite British folk feel to the songs, which is abetted by the primarily acoustic instrumentation. 

I love everything Mariusz Duda has produced, and this album is one of his best yet.

Brad: Agreed, Tad.  I think Duda is one of the single most talented persons in prog today, and I’ve felt this way since I first heard Riverside back in 2007 or so.  Indeed, it’s really hard to imagine the prog world and especially the so-called third wave of prog without Duda. I often like to think of him as an author, with the Riverside albums being the main story (the chapters) and the Lunatic Soul albums being the interludes. 

While all Lunatic Soul albums are good, this one is especially good, ranking–at least, as I see it–as probably the best of the lot since the first one was released.  It’s at least as good as the first album, if not slightly better.

My copy only arrived yesterday, but I’ve already listened to the album five times. I really like the folk elements of the album, but I don’t see them dominating it as much as informing it. I remember, for example, when Steven Wilson released his Storm Corrosion album, and I was shocked (not in a happy way) that such gothically-dark folk existed. The whole enterprise was depression-inducing, though I also find the effort, strangely, brilliant.  As chance would have it, I actually own two copies of Storm Corrosion. . . . but that’s for another post!

Duda’s new album, though, feels folky without being either superficial or too fraught with anger and unrelenting heaviness.

Through Shaded Woods also develops rather beautifully the ideas first expressed in Riverside’s song, “Wasteland” from the album of the same name.  It’s as though we paused the song at the 1:19 mark of that magnificent track and, then, with Through Shaded Woods, dove deep (as in really deep) into the song itself.

The artist enters his art. . .

As he explained (as posted at Burning Shed): “I think I have always wanted to create an album steeped in nature and woodlands.”  This makes perfect sense, and it means that Duda’s “folk” is Elvish and sylvan rather than dour and gothic. Duda claims he was influenced by paganism, but the album has a very Catholic, Franciscan, liturgical feel to it as well.

Tad: Yes, while I was listening to it yesterday, the words “primal rhythms” came to mind, and from that same quote via Burning Shed, he says, “… I wanted the album to include such ritualistic primal dances, shamanic, Slavic and Viking moods. I wanted to mix it all up and put it all together, making Through Shaded Woods the most intense, dynamic and most danceable album of my career.” I think he has succeeded!

I know that previous Lunatic Soul albums were understandably influenced by Duda’s personal losses of his Riverside bandmate Piotr Grudziński, and his father, and as such, they were very dark. The dynamism and irresistible beats of songs like “Summoning Dance” seem full of life and even joy. 

I consider Duda’s Lunatic Soul projects to be outlets for his acoustic side, while Riverside is where he satisfies his more electric tendencies. But in the nine-minute “Passage” the instrumentation and melody builds step by step from a simple, folksy riff to a roaring metal section that rivals anything Riverside has done in heaviness. And yet, it doesn’t feel like I’m being aurally assaulted by a phalanx of guitars. He still keeps the mood light, and it all works for me.

My favorite tracks (at least at this moment) are the inner trio of the title track with its insistent droning sound, “Oblivion” with its relentless drumbeat, and “Summoning Dance”, which is the ecstatic climax of all these “ritualistic primal dances”. Which songs do you enjoy most?

Brad: It’s funny, Tad, as many times as I’ve listened to this album now (even more than when I was writing above), I’m still thinking of it as a whole and having a hard time breaking it into tracks.  I suppose it’s the guitar sound that is so prominent in each song, helping making the album a whole. But, when pushed, I especially like track one, “Navvie,” because it introduces the album’s unique sound so perfectly. “The Passage,” track two, however, is a nearly perfect song, and I love track five–the most pagan of all the songs–”Summoning Dance.”

It’s a truly brilliant album, Tad.

Tad: It does have the feeling of an organic whole to it, doesn’t it? One song flows into the next and I can lose myself in the lush soundbed Duda has created. I wonder if there will be some cross-pollination between Lunatic Soul and Riverside in the future. If so, that will be all to the good! 

External craziness aside, inside the world of prog music, 2020 has been an exceptionally fine year. Every time I think I’ve heard the album of the year, another brilliant one is released.

I know that it has been incredibly difficult for artists to survive financially, and I hope that they can get out, play some shows, and make some money again. We may see more and more move to the subscription model that groups like Big Big Train are implementing. Whatever happens, I hope fans step up and support their favorite artists. Meanwhile, we’ll leave our readers with the video for “The Passage”:

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